This Is What Happens When Former Apple and Dropcam Engineers Turn Their Attention to the Car
Owl, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, came out of stealth Thursday with its Owl Car Cam product—an LTE-connected security camera for the car designed to capture crashes, break-ins, dents, and traffic stops as well as the weird or fun moments that happen while driving. The Car Cam, which has dual-facing interior and exterior cameras and can store 24 hours of video, will alert users if something happens to their unattended vehicle. It also allows users capture and share clips through a phone app.
Owl was founded on the idea that video, sensors, and intelligent software can help people deal with real life events that matter, the company says. However, the company was initially focused on the home, according to founder and CEO Andy Hodge, who ran product development for Apple’s iPod for 10 years and was head of engineering at video-monitoring startup Dropcam until Google’s Nest acquired it for $555 million in 2014.
“We started to build a list of what are the biggest risks to people?,” Hodge told Fortune. “When you start to put that list together it’s impossible not to recognize that the car is where so much more happens. The statistics are just unrelenting. That’s what kicked us sideways.”
One in 6 Americans pays for a security system in their home, according to Hodge. In the U.S., typical family has about a 1 in 10 risk of something happening like a break in, a fire, or package theft. But the real action is the car, where owners have a 1 in 2 chance of a crash, car theft, traffic stop, or break in occuring. And then there are all the weird, scary, or funny things that happen during the daily commute or road trip.
“If you gave 100 of your friends home security cameras and you said show me the most exciting thing after a month, what are you going to get?” Hodge asked. “You give 100 of your friends security cameras that work inside and outside of a car 24 hours a day, you’ll get something.”
The Owl Car Cam has dual HD cameras—one for the interior, the other for exterior video— an LTE cellular radio, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, a touch screen, a powerful processor, speakers, microphones and security beacon and lights. LED floodlights will turn on if someone tries to break into the car. Owl also sends you an alert via the Owl Cam App with video day or night so users can watch a live feed of what’s going on in their car. They can even use the intercom to say (or probably shout) “Get out of my car.”
The Owl Car Cam will be sold as bundle for $349, which includes the Owl Car Cam and 1 year of the LTE service. Eventually, the car cam will be sold individually for $299. The LTE service will cost $10 a month.
One of the more interesting features is “see it, say it, share it,” which lets users bookmark interesting moments or a traffic stop by saying “OK Presto” and then quickly describing the event. For example, “OK, Presto, a deer just ran in front of my car.” Users can go directly to that “Deer ran in front of car” bookmark and then decide how long of a clip they want to capture. Hodge says their research found 6 seconds tends to be the go-to number. But users can grab much longer events, like a 30-minute stop by a police officer, for instance.
Owl also announced it has raised $18 million in a combination of seed, Series A, and debt financing rounds from defy.vc, Khosla Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Moment Ventures, Sherpa Capital, CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA insurer, and Maniv Mobility. Defy.vc led the Series A.
“The Owl Car Cam can do for car security what Dropcam did for home security, and the iPod and iPhone did for music players and phones.” said Trae Vassallo, co-founder and managing director of defy.vc.
The Owl Car Cam will likely evolve with new features and uses. It’s the kind of system that could be particularly useful in an autonomous taxi service or even car-sharing fleets. Or even become an integrated system similar to how XM radio is in production vehicles today.
But for now, Owl is focused on getting users.
“When you get cameras in cars and you have a team that’s built sophisticated machine vision systems previously, Step 1 is to get people comfortable using these things,” Hodge said. “Step 2? I think you can see there are a lot of options.”